The Destructive Nature Of Workplace Disturbances
Research by workplace design firm, Tower Bridge, found that South African employees are interrupted or distracted at the office around 30 – 40 times per day. In an era where businesses are focused on maximising productivity and efficiency without compromising quality or service, these findings point to significant opportunities to perform better by reducing the alarming levels of workspace disruptions and disturbances revealed by the research.
The survey conducted by Tower Bridge that canvassed a little under 1000 employees working for 40 firms, showed that most of the interruptions are between three and seven minutes long, and that it takes about the same time again for a worker to return to the task and refocus. At a conservative average of 10 minutes per disruption, including the average time it takes each employee to return to the task, thirty disruptions steal around half a day of productive time per employee – every day.
The research found that a firm loses about 330 hours of productive time per 100 employees every day. At an average cost of R120 an hour per employee, that translates into approximately R8000 wasted per employee per month
The most frequent interruptions were caused by on-the-fly requests for help or information, using up just over 61 hours per 100 employees per day. Checking inboxes is the next most productivity-draining activity, using 56 hours per 100 employees per day, followed by changes in work priorities and general office disturbances and social distractions, each on a little more than 50 hours per 100 employees per day.
Interruptions aren’t good for an employee’s wellbeing either. Current employees who are under more pressure to do more work faster, are increasingly frustrated with the high volume and range of disturbances and distractions that require them to attempt to multitask. The stress that these frustrations cause drive up cortisol, the neurotransmitter responsible for lower cognition, reduced creativity, lower energy, and poor health and wellbeing.
The Tower Bridge findings are more conservative than the results produced by similar Gallup, Gensler and Steelcase studies, suggesting that the negative impact of disturbances might be even bigger. Given that studies on human concentration levels show how fickle the human mind is at best, it’s likely that the already alarming statistics are understated.
Disruptions and distractions are a reality of the modern open-plan office and a technology driven ‘always-on’ world. While some distractions fight for scarce concentration capacity, many more are subliminal, taking additional process power and energy from employees’ brains all the time. These include movement, noise, temperature, light, ventilation, and even smells.
High levels of workplace distraction demand continuous attention switching (disguised as ‘multitasking’) that fatigues the human mind quickly, resulting in reduced quality of thought, higher levels of errors and stress and sleepiness.
While businesses criticise the lack of productivity among their distracted employees, Tower Bridge research shows that most employees want to get on with the job – and they know what changes they need in their workplace to do so. They need spaces where they can focus on work without interruptions, and they need spaces that allow for and encourage different types of collaboration and sharing.
Tower Bridge has identified that office workers typically function in six different modes of work, and businesses that seek to achieve the greatest productivity from their employees need to bear this in mind when they are designing their workplace. Creating spaces for people to function optimally in these six work modes will reduce distractions and interruptions, giving people the space that they need to get on with the job.
The six modes of work include:
- Task mode, requiring undisturbed space to concentrate
- Interact mode, requiring space to interact with others
- Collaborate mode, requiring space and tools to meet and interact in internal groups
- Communications mode, requiring quiet or private space to make or receive phone calls
- Present mode, requiring space and tools to receive or present information, such as learning, teaching or presenting
- Social mode, requiring space to refresh, socialise or work informally
The research showed that typical office workers spend an average of 50-70% percent of their time in task mode, followed by 20-30% percent of their time in interact mode. They spend 10-20% percent of their time in each of collaborate, communicate, and presenting modes, with 10 percent spent in rejuvenate and social mode.
The workplaces that work for employees, and are the most efficient and productive for businesses, are the ones that take these splits in the working day into account. They show employees that their workplaces really understand their needs, and that they’re prepared to respond to them – something that is often far more motivating and profitable than a cash incentive.